The heart of the mission of the church is disciple-making.
When Jesus commissioned His disciples for their role in the world, he said, “Go and make disciples.” Then He gave two stages in that process: firstly, baptising them (which means bringing them to faith in Jesus; evangelism) and secondly, teaching them to obey everything that He had commanded. I am not going to talk about evangelism today (or, actually, for quite some time). I want to talk about the second phase: teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.
The disciple-making process is very like having and raising children. In fact, I think that parenting is one of the best analogies for disciple-making. The two stages in making disciples are birth and growth. Evangelism is about being born again. Learning to live in obedience to Jesus is about growth. Parent give birth to children and then raise them – train them to be effective adults.
In making disciples, how important is the second stage? How important is growing people to maturity compared with evangelism? Some people might argue that the most important thing is evangelism. We bring people to faith in Jesus and that means they are saved; they are going to heaven. That is the important thing. We should then get on with evangelising others.
And yet the parenting analogy suggests something is wrong with that view. Is it sufficient for parents to simply give birth to children and not raise them? That would be utterly irresponsible! Unfortunately, there are lots of babies and children out there who are not being raised; not being trained up in the way they should go; not being nurtured and guided by the parents who gave birth to them. That’s very bad.
So, is it just as important to grow Christians to maturity as it was to bring them to birth in the first place? We need to ask that because lots of churches do very little to grow their members to maturity.
I want to suggest that God puts a premium on maturity. God looks for maturity.
Jesus told us to do both – to bring people to faith and then to grow them to maturity. Evangelism is only half the job. Jesus’ goal is mature disciples.
Also, there are dozens of passages in the Bible about growth. For example,
2 Pet 3:18 Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…
Growth is commanded. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I said last week that a disciple is a student. Learning and growth are, by definition, central to discipleship.
Many of the passages about growth you will know.
Rom 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds. And note the benefits of growth. With maturity comes the ability to know God’s will.
You probably know Ephesians 4:11-16 which talks about the building up of the body of Christ (the church) “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
God gives leadership gifts to the church for what reason? So that we might all become mature. Maturity is described as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Maturity is being Christ-like. In that passage Paul says that a consequence of immaturity is not knowing what to believe and being tossed back and forth. But the benefit of maturity is that we can all minister to one another so that we grow up.
Some biblical passages are about lack of growth. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul was frustrated. He couldn’t speak to the Corinthians as spiritual people. He had to address them like worldly people. He calls them mere infants in Christ – people who haven’t grown up. He had to feed them milk because they weren’t ready for solid food. They are still babies.
The evidence of their spiritual immaturity was their jealousy and quarrelling. Was Jesus jealous and quarrelsome? Absolutely not! Neither should His followers be. Jealousy and quarrelling are both very self-centred. Jealousy: I want what someone else has. I want. Quarrelling: I want my way. I want.
Jesus said that one of the fundamentals of discipleship is dying to ourselves. The Corinthians had hardly even got started. They were lacking even basic Christian growth. They are babies and that is frustrating.
There is a similar passage in Hebrew 5:11-6:3. The author complains that his readers are slow to learn. He (or she), makes an interesting statement: though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. In other words, the Hebrews have been Christians long enough to now be teachers. They should be pouring their learning into the next generation of believers. They should be. They should be involved in ministry to others; they should be giving, but they are not. They need to keep receiving the same elementary truths over and over again.
In those two passages we see at least three indicators of immaturity: bickering, lack of spiritual understanding and not ministering to others; constantly receiving but not giving. They are not unknown in churches but in both of these passages about lack of growth, we hear the frustration of God – just as Jesus was sometimes utterly frustrated by the lack of growth in the disciples. Do you still not understand?
God is not happy with people remaining spiritual babies. God puts a premium on maturity.
Let’s read 2 Peter 1:3-15.
Note, first of all, the last paragraph that we read, vv.12-15. Peter says he will do everything he can to continue to grow his readers. God has revealed to him that he will soon die, so he is even more motivated to disciple the people he is writing to. “I will always remind you of these things. Even though you know them I will keep refreshing your memory. As long as I have breath in my body, I will make every effort…” See his disciple-makers heart and passion. “I will make every effort to ensure that you remember them.”
Do you have that sort of passion for encouraging and nurturing younger Christians towards maturity? To his dying day, Peter would be a disciple-maker.
Let’s go back to v.3. The power of God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. This is the life we are talking about. This is the life of obedience; the Christ-like life. This is spiritual maturity. We have everything we need to life that life. The power of God is given to work in us and transform us…
… through our knowledge of Jesus. When we come to know Jesus, the power of God becomes available to help us live the Christian life. If we don’t have faith in Jesus, of course, these things are not available to us. But when we do, there are masses of resources made available to us – the Holy Spirit, the Bible, other Christians, the freedom to choose right and not wrong. Everything we need to live a godly life is available to us. In fact, Peter says that God has given us His great and precious promises so that we might participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of this world.
We can participate in the divine nature. That doesn’t mean we become gods. It means we share God’s nature; we become like God. Notice how often the Bible says that the goal of our growth is Christ-likeness. All of this is possible. We should never say, “I’m only human” and excuse our frailty. We are not meant to be only human. We are meant to be humans filled with God – full of the Holy Spirit – and transformed into Jesus’ likeness.
Is the power of God at work in you, growing you? Have you received your inheritance?
In v.5 Peter says, “For this very reason, make every effort…” We might think, “Oh OK. It is all up to God. The power of God does it. I don’t have to do anything.” But Peter says the opposite, “Because God has given everything you need, make every effort.” We need to cooperate with God. We cannot sit back and do nothing. Rather, the generosity of God in giving all we need is reason and motivation for us to stand up and say, “My growth, my maturity, Christ-likeness is possible by the power of God. Therefore I will strive to take hold of what God has given me. I will make every effort.”
Then it is as if Peter lays out a growth curriculum. We start with faith; the faith that has brought us into a relationship with Jesus but then Peter says, “Add goodness”. He describes a series of eight steps: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and finally love.
We don’t have time to talk about each of those although I wish we could. It would be a valuable study. But just note that Peter is prescribing a growth process. It is all about growth. We don’t sit still. Wherever we are in our spiritual journey, we are urged to add the next thing until we become a more complete person. It is perhaps no surprise that the ultimate is agape, that Christ-like, self-giving love.
Again, notice the benefits of maturity and the consequences of immaturity. V.8: if we possess these qualities in increasing measure... In other words, it is not just a case of having a particular quality but of continuing to grow in that quality. But if we have those qualities, we will be effective and productive.
Does that appeal to you? Do you want to be effective and productive in your Christian life? Do you want your life to count for God? Do you want to bear fruit? The secret, Peter says, is maturity. Make every effort to grow towards maturity.
Without this growth (v.9) a person remains blind. The person who doesn’t grow has forgotten that he/she has been forgiven. Wow! If you don’t grow, birth is meaningless. Anyone who remembers what a great thing it was to be forgiven, wants to keep on growing and to honour God. But the person who is blasé about his/her spiritual growth and about being effective and productive for God, has clearly forgotten what it means to be saved. You cannot be truly saved by Jesus and then be blasé.
In vv.10, 11, Peter again says to make every effort. This should occupy our thinking and motivate everything we do. Make every effort to confirm your calling and election. Are you saved? Have you been forgiven? Will you one day live in God’s presence? Peter warns against making assumptions about that. He says, “Make every effort to confirm it.” Truly? Have you been saved? Then, let’s see it. It is not about starting the race. It is about finishing it.
Here are two more benefits of maturity. If you do these things you will never stumble. Build faith and goodness and knowledge and self-control etc into your life and you won’t drop out of the race. You won’t fall into sin. You will keep going. You will finish the race.
And, you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
How important is maturity compared with being born again? Maturity is the key to our effectiveness and productivity, to our ability to keep going and to our salvation. That is pretty important!
But think about it. That is true of parenting too. If we don’t raise our children to maturity, they won’t be effective and productive. They won’t be equipped to keep going without stumbling. These things come with maturity. That is why God puts a premium on maturity and why we are commissioned to make disciples.
For reflection and action
- How important do you think spiritual maturity is compared with being born again?
- List all of the passages you can think of that talk about growth and reflect on what each teaches.
- Read 2 Peter 1:3-15 again and write down your own reflections.
- Research the biblical meaning of each of the eight qualities Peter lists in vv.5-7.
- Reflect on the benefits of maturity Peter mentions and also the consequences of immaturity.
- Does v.11 teach that our salvation depends on our maturity?
- What other passages talk about similar things?
- Where would you say you are on the journey Peter describes in those verses?
- What is the next step God is asking you to make?
- Bible passages about growth
- How Do You Live The Christian Life? (pdf) – Radio Bible Class booklet on 2 Peter 1.